This website contains images of people who have passed away.

Barbara Day

Devoted her life to Aboriginal affairs, advocacy and social justice.


Highly esteemed for her wisdom, cultural knowledge and dedicated community service.

Aunty Barbara Day was a proud Yorta Yorta/Wemba Wemba Elder. She was a mother of 8 children and a grandmother. Born on Cummeragunja Aboriginal Reserve near Barmah in New South Wales in 1941, she was the third youngest of 13 children to William Atkinson and Isabella Atkinson (nee McGee). Her mother was a Stolen Generations survivor.

Aunty Barbara's family participated in the Cummeragunja walk off in 1939 to protest the deplorable living conditions on the reserve and the New South Wales Government's restrictive control of the station. The walk off remains a proud moment in Aboriginal history. 

Aunty Barbara and her family relocated to Echuca when she was 2. She grew up with all her family around her and cherished her childhood memories of being surrounded by her cousins and siblings. After school, they would all gather to listen to stories on the radio as they had no television in their home. During weekends, the whole extended family would unite and the children would engage in imaginative play, re-enacting scenes and sharing ghost stories.

She attended the 208 Primary School in Echuca, where segregation was practised. Aunty Barbara recalled, ‘They had a special grade for us Koori kids.’ Her mother worked as a domestic worker for non-Aboriginal families and was a Sunday School teacher. She conducted her sessions with local missionaries from their family home. 

Christianity held significance in Aunty Barbara’s life. She credited her faith for helping her navigate life’s challenges, particularly the sad personal losses of community and family members, including 2 of her children and her husband.

Aunty Barbara left school and got a job at the local cannery picking fruit at age 15. It was while picking grapes in Swan Hill that she met her beloved husband, Wesley. They exchanged vows at the Methodist Church in Echuca. Sharing her passion for country and western music, Wesley, who played the guitar, often serenaded her with love songs. They worked tirelessly together to support their family. 

Aunty Barbara’s enduring legacy is marked by her contributions to the Njernda Aboriginal Corporation and her advocacy for the Koori Courts. Aunty Barbara was one of the 1974 founding members of the Warma Co-operative, which later became Njernda Aboriginal Corporation (Njernda). She was involved for nearly 50 years, as a community member and director, retiring from this role in 2021. 

Njernda strives to empower their local Aboriginal community and delivers community-controlled holistic services and programs. Njernda also improves the physical, emotional, cultural and spiritual wellbeing of the Aboriginal community of Echuca and surrounding areas. Aunty Barbara completed several courses whilst working there, including a cultural arts course at TAFE. She went on to work as an Aboriginal Health Worker specialising in the provision of hearing tests for the local Aboriginal community and primary schools. 

Aunty Barbara did not slow down after retirement. She went on to volunteer at the Koori Court in Shepparton supporting the local community and youth. As an Aboriginal Elder, she was able to advise the court and judge on cultural issues that impact on offending behaviours.

In 2005, Aunty Barbara engaged in a digital storytelling project called ‘Voices from the Riverlands’ and her story was recorded and featured in a film. This project was a collaboration between Njernda and the Australian Centre of the Moving Image. In her story, Days of Echuca, Aunty Barbara courageously and openly spoke of the hardships she had endured in her life and how she had managed to recover from these tragedies by drawing support from her spirituality, her family, and her community. 

Aunty Barbara was a quiet achiever and an incredible role model to those who knew her. She devoted her life to working tirelessly for her community. In addition to raising 8 children, she opened her home to numerous foster children while maintaining her community work. She also developed her skills in sewing and garment making.

Aunty Barbara demonstrated exceptional generosity with both her time and wisdom. Well into her eighth decade of life, her passion and commitment to supporting her community remained unwavering. Despite facing hardships, losses and grief, she stayed steadfast in her commitment to advocating for her family and community. She was highly esteemed for her wisdom, cultural knowledge and dedicated community service. 

Aunty Barbara sadly passed away in Echuca in 2024. Even in retirement, she remained actively engaged with her community, offering cultural support through Welcome to Country ceremonies as a revered Elder. She believed in the importance of having a strong culture and maintaining strong communities.